Velazquez named Correctional Officer of the Year
By Lt. Mark Hargrove, AA/PIO, California Institution for Men
and Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer II
(Editor’s note: CDCR’s annual Medal of Valor and employee recognition ceremony will be held Thursday, Sept. 15. Inside CDCR will publish profiles of some of those being honored each day leading up to the ceremony. The event will be live streamed.)
CDCR staff members go above and beyond every day, whether they are putting on a uniform, creating a lesson plan for inmate students or managing complex budgets. Each year, the department pays tribute to standout employees whose work truly exemplifies the mission of the department: a safer California through correctional excellence.
Among the Employee Recognition Award honorees this year is Correctional Officer Juan C. Velazquez of California Institution for Men (CIM), who has been named Correctional Officer of the Year.
Velazquez is an outstanding example of how to balance the security needs of a correctional institution with the need to promote inmate programs and provide rehabilitative opportunities. At CIM’s Substance Abuse Program (SAP), he is responsible for the safety and security of more than 500 inmates and 25 contract and CDCR staff.
He is known among inmates and staff as a “no-nonsense” officer who treats all in a fair, impartial and consistent manner. His efforts to counsel inmates and maintain safety have resulted in a positive, productive SAP environment for both inmates and staff as everybody works toward increased rehabilitation and reduced recidivism.
Congratulations, Officer Velazquez!
When did your career at CDCR begin, and what has been your path to your current position?
On May 2004, I transitioned from the California Youth Authority and began my career with CDCR. Before my current position, I worked many assignments such as Med-trans, holiday relief, property officer in Administrative Segregation, Valdivia, etc. In March 2013, I was asked by Correctional Counselor III C. Ramirez if I was interested in a position at the Substance Abuse Program (SAP). I accepted the position and looked forward to the learning experience from working with CCIII Ramirez. CCIII Ramirez was highly regarded by many custody staff members as being very knowledgeable and a great mentor and leader. In addition, I was interested in the program and what it had to offer in rehabilitating the inmates.
What is your current assignment and your typical duties?
I am assigned to Facility-D SAP and Re-Entry Hub program. My duties consist of staff and inmate accountability as well as the safety and security of the programs. I am also responsible for ensuring inmates’ timely arrival to program and their daily ducat schedules, conducting urinalysis testing of SAP program inmates, random security checks in both SAP and Re-Entry hub buildings, supervising the inmate yard crew and maintaining a respectful and professional verbal rapport with inmates under my supervision.
You work in a heavily programming facility. How do you balance the security of the institution while encouraging inmates to participate in rehabilitative programs?
Maintaining a respectful verbal dialogue with inmates gives me an advantage in being able to remind and instruct inmates on the importance of following institutional rules and guidelines, as well as the program rules. I maintain a firm and consistent rapport with all inmates by treating them with respect and counseling them when they violate any regulation. I also remind them of the disciplinary actions that can be taken when they fail to comply. This allows for smooth operation of the program and gives the inmates the ability to approach custody staff and ask for assistance without hesitation. I counsel and remind inmates on the importance of staying focused and to complete their goal of graduating from the SAP and Re-Entry programs.
What are your thoughts on the impact of rehabilitative programs not just on offenders, but also institution staff and the overall climate of the prison?
I believe these programs can give inmates a second chance in making a positive change in their lives. The programs offer inmates a different way of thinking, as well as teaching them how to utilize the program tools taught to them by the very knowledgeable program staff. These programs get the inmates to stop thinking in a negative criminal way of being and to start thinking in a more productive and positive way. When an inmate starts to acknowledge the program staff and custody staff are there to assist them in their rehabilitative needs, their attitude toward staff changes. Inmates become more receptive to treatment and guidance.
This rapport between staff and inmates allows the program to run smoothly and maintain a comfortable and professional environment. In my opinion, these programs, when given the chance, can create a good rapport between custody staff, non-custody staff and inmates by showing the public CDCR is not just about locking people up and forgetting about them – there are a lot of educational tools, programs, opportunities and positive guidance available for the inmate who is serious about making a positive change in his life. I feel staff members, custody and program staff, are positive role models to all inmates who have never had proper guidance in their lives due to circumstances beyond their control.
By having these programs available to inmates, it keeps inmates busy, active and for the most part out of negative activities for those who are ready for change. I believe this helps in reducing stress among the inmate population. This in turn gives inmates a sense of hope in rehabilitation and integration back into society as productive members of the community.
How does it feel to have your hard work honored in such a way?
It is an honor to represent California Institution for Men and all the hardworking staff. Having great mentors in your life such as my father (retired Parole Agent) Julian Velazquez, CCIII Ramirez and other supervisors, it feels amazing being acknowledged for my hard work and dedication. I show up every day to work with one thing on my mind: performing my duties to the best of my ability. I take pride in providing a positive representation of CIM and plan to continue to implement everything I have been taught and trained to do. I strive to be a positive influence on new incoming officers and provide the guidance they need to accomplish a long-lasting career, as many have done for me.